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**Update: African Parks Foundation withdraws from Ethiopia**
       read the African Parks withdrawal statement

Seven tribes threatened by Ethiopian National Park 
en francais, en espagnol

The Omo National Park in Southern Ethiopia has been taken over by the Dutch conservation organization, African Parks Foundation (APF) also known as African Parks Conservation, and an estimated 40,000 tribal people are in danger of being displaced and/or of losing access to their vital subsistence resources.

The 1570 square mile Omo National Park is home to the Suri, Dizi, Mursi, Me'en, Kwegu, Bodi and Nyangatom tribal peoples. These tribal peoples live in or use nearly the entire park for cultivation and cattle grazing. They have made this land their home for centuries.

The Omo National Park was established in 1966, but its boundaries were never legally established, a process known as gazettement. To pave the way for a management contract between African Parks Foundation and the Ethiopian Federal and Regional Governments, the boundaries were 'demarcated', in early 2005. The demarcation was accomplished by Ethiopian park officials marking rocks at specific points using a GPS, redrawing maps, and persuading tribal people to sign away their land, without compensation, on documents they could not read. This was done in hurried preparation for gazettement.

One Mursi tribal member reported that he “saw the police grab three Mursi people … and force them to sign the paper with their thumbprints.”

The gazettement of the Omo Park will make the Omo peoples illegal squatters on their own land. African Parks Foundation was made aware of the way the ‘agreement’ of local people to the park boundaries was obtained, and was asked repeatedly to include a ‘no evictions’ clause in its contract with the government. They went ahead, however, and signed a contract, which makes no mention of the tribal peoples, in November 2005.

Ethiopian government officials said in 2005 that the Mursi would have to move out of the park, and African Parks Foundation says it cannot interfere with the plans of a 'sovereign government'.

People were evicted from a park African Parks Foundation took over, in 2004. In February 2004, APF signed an agreement to manage Nech Sar National Park, near Arba Minch. In November 2004, 463 houses of the Guji people were burned down by Ethiopian park officials and local police, to coerce the Guji to leave their land, inside Nech Sar.

"We usually hear news on the radio even when a single house is burned down by criminals. We hear all different kinds of crimes reported. In our case we lost 463 houses, but it was not reported at all," said one Guji tribal member.

In 2004, more than nine thousand people of the Guji and Kore tribes were displaced from, and within, Nech Sar in attempt to fulfill a contractual agreement between the government and APF that all people would be removed before APF took over management.

“We didn’t want to be involved in the resettlement, so I put a clause in the contract that said we wouldn’t take over the park until the resettlement was completed,” said APF's founder, Paul van Vlissingen.

African Parks Foundation founder Paul van Vlissingen, was Chairman of the global retail giant Makro Retail and Calor Gas, a liquid petroleum gas distribution company. Rob Walton, Chairman of the board of Wal-Mart, is on the board of African Parks Foundation. The Walton Foundation has donated large sums of money to APF and is listed as one of two major funders to African Parks, along with the US Department of State.

African Parks Foundation manages parks in Zambia, Malawi, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Ethiopia and is reportedly looking at managing more. The revenue from these Parks accrues to their projects, and is put towards opening more parks. “National Parks must become virtual companies,” Paul van Vlissingen has said and this corporate philosophy for his conservation organization makes sense, with the business tycoon Rob Walton on board.

The environmental impact of this plan could be disastrous, if people, who have managed this land and its wildlife for centuries, are removed. Tribal people have formed this landscape over thousands of years of agricultural and grazing. The most radical change to the ecosystem would be the removal of humans, whom the wild animals have evolved behavior patterns with over millennia. Hungry, angry peoples surrounding the park would be detrimental to the success of the park and the biodiversity.

If the tribal peoples of the area are removed, there is great risk of both violent conflict with the government and with any tribes whose land they are moved onto. There is no unused land in the area; fights would ensue over too little land for two many people.

"The Ethiopian government should be very worried about the prospects of even more violence if they go ahead with their apparent policy of removal in the Omo … area" said David Turton, a British anthropologist with over 30 years experience working among the Mursi, one of the tribes living in the boundaries of the Omo National Park. "Any attempt to encroach on Mursi territory will ratchet up the existing pressure on resources in the lower Omo area."

Native Solutions to Conservation Refugees asks that:

1. African Parks Foundation (APF) makes copies of the contracts they have signed with the Ethiopian Federal Government and with the SNNPRS (Southern Regional) Government, freely available to local people.

2. addenda are inserted into these contracts that APF have already signed, on Nech Sar Park and the Omo Park, stating  that, under APF management,  no local people will be displaced, or denied access to grazing or agricultural land lying within the park boundaries.

3. APF will negotiate written agreements with each affected local group, safeguarding its rights to a secure livelihood in its existing territories, and setting out the principles of ‘co-management’, as has been proposed. These agreements should be signed before any discussions are entered into with local people concerning the details of the management plans for the two parks.

4. the U.S. Department of State, Conservation International and the African Development Bank, provide no funds to APF for the management of Nech Sar and the Omo National Parks, Ethiopia, unless and until it has satisfied the above conditions.

For a more in-depth look at this issue read:
The takeover of Ethiopia's Omo National Park by African Parks Foundation (APF) of the Netherlands

What You Can Do

Local Groups' Territories within the Omo National Park          Tribal Territories within the Omo National Park